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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 22)


"When a man is named Savinien de Portenduere," cried Rastignac, "and has a future peer of France for a cousin and Admiral Kergarouet for a great-uncle, and commits the enormous blunder of allowing himself to be put in Sainte-Pelagie, it is very certain that he must not stay there, my good fellow."

"Why didn't you tell me?" cried de Marsay. "You could have had my traveling-carriage, ten thousand francs, and letters of introduction for Germany. We know Gobseck and Gigonnet and the other crocodiles; we could have made them capitulate. But tell me, in the first place, what ass ever led you to drink of that cursed spring."

"Des Lupeaulx."

The three young men looked at each other with one and the same thought and suspicion, but they did not utter it.

"Explain all your resources; show us your hand," said de Marsay.

When Savinien had told of his mother and her old-fashioned ways, and the little house with three windows in the Rue des Bourgeois, without other grounds than a court for the well and a shed for the wood; when he had valued the house, built of sandstone and pointed in reddish cement, and put a price on the farm at Bordieres, the three dandies looked at each other, and all three said with a solemn air the word of the abbe in Alfred de Musset's "Marrons du feu" (which had then just appeared),--"Sad!"

"Your mother will pay if you write a clever letter," said Rastignac.

"Yes, but afterwards?" cried de Marsay.

"If you had merely been put in the fiacre," said Lucien, "the government would find you a place in diplomacy, but Saint-Pelagie isn't the antechamber of an embassy."

"You are not strong enough for Parisian life," said Rastignac.

"Let us consider the matter," said de Marsay, looking Savinien over as a jockey examines a horse. "You have fine blue eyes, well opened, a white forehead well shaped, magnificent black hair, a little moustache which suits those pale cheeks, and a slim figure; you've a foot that tells race, shoulders and chest not quite those of a porter, but solid. You are what I call an elegant male brunette. Your face is of the style Louis XII., hardly any color, well-formed nose; and you have the thing that pleases women, a something, I don't know what it is, which men take no account of themselves; it is in the air, the manner, the tone of the voice, the dart of the eye, the gesture,--in short, in a number of little things which women see and to which they attach a meaning which escapes us. You don't know your merits, my dear fellow. Take a certain tone and style and in six months you'll captivate an English-woman with a hundred thousand pounds; but you must call yourself viscount, a title which belongs to you. My charming step- mother, Lady Dudley, who has not her equal for matching two hearts, will find you some such woman in the fens of Great Britain. What you must now do is to get the payment of your debts postponed for ninety days. Why didn't you tell us about them? The money-lenders at Baden would have spared you--served you perhaps; but now, after you have once been in prison, they'll despise you. A money-lender is, like society, like the masses, down on his knees before the man who is strong enough to trick him, and pitiless to the lambs. To the eyes of some persons Sainte-Pelagie is a she-devil who burns the souls of young men. Do you want my candid advice? I shall tell you as I told that little d'Esgrignon: 'Arrange to pay your debts leisurely; keep enough to live on for three years, and marry some girl in the provinces who can bring you an income of thirty thousand francs.' In the course of three years you can surely find some virtuous heiress who is willing to call herself Madame la Vicomtesse de Portenduere. Such is virtue,--let's drink to it. I give you a toast: 'The girl with money!"

The young men did not leave their ex-friend till the official hour for parting. The gate was no sooner closed behind them than they said to each other: "He's not strong enough!" "He's quite crushed." "I don't believe he'll pull through it?"

The next day Savinien wrote his mother a confession in twenty-two pages. Madame de Portenduere, after weeping for one whole day, wrote first to her son, promising to get him out of prison, and then to the Comte de Portenduere and to Admiral Kergarouet.

The letters the abbe had just read and which the poor mother was holding in her hand and moistening with tears, were the answers to her appeal, which had arrived that morning, and had almost broken her heart.

Paris, September, 1829.

To Madame de Portenduere:

Madame,--You cannot doubt the interest which the admiral and I both feel in your troubles. What you ask of Monsieur de Kergarouet grieves me all the more because our house was a home to your son; we were proud of him. If Savinien had had more confidence in the admiral we could have taken him to live with us, and he would already have obtained some good situation. But, unfortunately, he told us nothing; he ran into debt of his own accord, and even involved himself for me, who knew nothing of his pecuniary position. It is all the more to be regretted because Savinien has, for the moment, tied our hands by allowing the authorities to arrest him.

If my nephew had not shown a foolish passion for me and sacrificed our relationship to the vanity of a lover, we could have sent him to travel in Germany while his affairs were being settled here. Monsieur de Kergarouet intended to get him a place in the War office; but this imprisonment for debt will paralyze such efforts. You must pay his debts; let him enter the navy; he will make his way like the true Portenduere that he is; he has the fire of the family in his beautiful black eyes, and we will all help him.

Do not be disheartened, madame; you have many friends, among whom I beg you to consider me as one of the most sincere; I send you our best wishes, with the respects of

Your very affectionate servant, Emilie de Kergarouet.

The second letter was as follows:--

Portenduere, August, 1829.

To Madame de Portenduere:

My dear aunt,--I am more annoyed than surprised at Savinien's pranks. As I am married and the father of two sons and one daughter, my fortune, already too small for my position and prospects, cannot be lessened to ransom a Portenduere from the hands of the Jews. Sell your farm, pay his debts, and come and live with us at Portenduere. You shall receive the welcome we owe you, even though our views may not be entirely in accordance with yours. You shall be made happy, and we will manage to marry Savinien, whom my wife thinks charming. This little outbreak is nothing; do not make yourself unhappy; it will never be known in this part of the country, where there are a number of rich girls who would be delighted to enter our family.

My wife joins me in assuring you of the happiness you would give us, and I beg you to accept her wishes for the realization of this plan, together with my affectionate respects.

Luc-Savinien, Comte de Portenduere.

"What letters for a Kergarouet to receive!" cried the old Breton lady, wiping her eyes.

"The admiral does not know his nephew is in prison," said the Abbe Chaperon at last; "the countess alone read your letter, and has answered it for him. But you must decide at once on some course," he added after a pause, "and this is what I have the honor to advise. Do not sell your farm. The lease is just out, having lasted twenty-four years; in a few months you can raise the rent to six thousand francs and get a premium for double that amount. Borrow what you need of some honest man,--not from the townspeople who make a business of mortgages. Your neighbour here is a most worthy man; a man of good society, who knew it as it was before the Revolution, who was once an atheist, and is now an earnest Catholic. Do not let your feelings debar you from going to his house this very evening; he will fully understand the step you take; forget for a moment that you are a Kergarouet."

"Never!" said the old mother, in a sharp voice.

"Well, then, be an amiable Kergarouet; come when he is alone. He will lend you the money at three and a half per cent, perhaps even at three per cent, and will do you this service delicately; you will be pleased with him. He can go to Paris and release Savinien himself,--for he will have to go there to sell out his funds,--and he can bring the lad back to you."

"Are you speaking of that little Minoret?"

"That little Minoret is eighty-three years old," said the abbe, smiling. "My dear lady, do have a little Christian charity; don't wound him,--he might be useful to you in other ways."

"What ways?"

"He has an angel in his house; a precious young girl--"

"Oh! that little Ursula. What of that?"

The poor abbe did not pursue the subject after these significant words, the laconic sharpness of which cut through the proposition he was about to make.

"I think Doctor Minoret is very rich," he said.

"So much the better for him."

"You have indirectly caused your son's misfortunes by refusing to give him a profession; beware for the future," said the abbe sternly. "Am I to tell Doctor Minoret that you are coming?"

"Why cannot he come to me if he knows I want him?" she replied.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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